A group of women in Macomb wondered why police in their community don't wear body cameras. The women did more than ask questions. They started a campaign called Because We Care to help raise money for the equipment.
Their goal is to raise $33,000, which would cover half the cost of buying 25 cameras, the software, and the installation equipment. According to the group’s GoFundMe page, they had raised $28,430 as of Monday, September 21. Individuals and businesses have contributed to the campaign.
“It’s been a good team effort,” said the group’s Sue Marshall.
The Women Behind Because We Care
Two of the group’s four organizers are Black and are the daughters of former police officers.
Vanessa Huston said that helps her see how cameras can help officers and the public.
“I have the insight of how things happen as a policeman. But I also have the other side of it with him being the first police officer of color here in Macomb. We got calls to our house, we got threats to our house and that kind of stuff. So I also know that side of not feeling safe too,” said Huston, whose late father, Bill Thorpe, became Macomb’s first Black police officer in 1961.
She acknowledged body cameras won’t catch everything that happens at a scene.
“But I think it’s better to have some footage versus just relying on what this one over here saw, what that one over there saw, and what somebody else told somebody else and that kind of stuff,” Huston said, adding that people tend to act differently when they know they’re on camera.
“Policemen and the other people that they’re interacting with -- when they know they’re being video (recorded) and they’re being watched,” she said, “I think people tend to put on their best behavior.”
Cara Erude is the group’s other daughter of a former police officer.
She said her father, Theodore Jefferson, was the
first second Black police sergeant in Monmouth, so she doesn’t agree with negative stereotypes about police officers.
“I’m used to - from seeing my dad at work - seeing the positive and the impact that he had in the community,” she said. “So I feel that it’s a win-win for people of color and the police officers,” she said about equipping police officers with body cameras.
Erude said the fundraising campaign has ruffled the feathers of a few people who question why the public should raise money for the police department and why they should contribute to the campaign.
“‘You don’t necessarily have to. It is a choice,” Erude said. “But also know that the body cameras are for the very people who are having issues with this campaign - it’s for their protection as well.”
Sue Marshall said she got involved in the campaign because she has listened to a great deal of discussion in the past year about policing and racial issues in Macomb and around the globe.
“I thought perhaps this (Because We Care) was something the community could support as an effort to help people of color in this community feel more welcomed and feel safer,” Marshall said.
“I think it represents a systemic change in our police department in terms of accountability. (Body cameras) can be a useful tool in training officers and can protect against miscarriages of justice for citizens and police.”
Marshall said the idea of defunding police is misleading. She would prefer to rethink how police conduct their work.
She suggested social workers could work in conjunction with police when law officers are called to a domestic disturbance or to deal with someone struggling with mental health issues.
Because We Care’s Sarah Shoper Salazar said that as a white person, she grew up with a favorable impression of police. But she now recognizes it’s not that way for everybody, which is why she got involved with the body cams fundraiser.
“It takes a little bit of sacrificing on my husband and mine’s parts to be able to make a contribution,” Shoper Salazar said. “But when I think about it, I would rather do that for the benefit of my community than to just ignore it. There are people who are talking about their experiences and they’re not positive with our police.”
Schoper Salazar said body cameras will provide evidence so people can see what happens during interactions between police and community members. She also emphasized that police are not doing all bad or all good.
“They’re just like us,” she said. “They’re human beings and we all have stuff to work on in our jobs no matter what it is that we do.”
Because We Care has a Facebook page, where its members pose numerous questions about law enforcement body cameras. They share the responses provided by the police department.
Why Aren’t Macomb Cops Already Using Body Cams?
Body cameras for police officers have been available for a few years, and the Illinois Law Enforcement Officer-Worn Body Camera Act went into effect in 2016.
But Macomb Police Chief Curt Barker said he likes to do his research before making such purchases.
“The Panasonic body worn camera that we’re going to be fielding is going to be at least the fourth version,” the chief said. “So you can see how it’s progressed this quickly because they started fielding that maybe five years ago and we’re already on the fourth version. And you never want to be the first person to go in and take that initial equipment,” the chief said.
Barker said the body cameras will integrate with other Panasonic equipment the department already uses, including cameras mounted in squad cars.
Barker thinks the body cameras will be good for officers and for the public, and he praised the members of Because We Care.
“They have always come forward and tried to work with us on all their reform efforts,” Barker said. “And this is just one step to work together and to help get this through and build trust,” said Barker.
He said the department will seek additional funding for body cams by applying for a grant through the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board. But he said the city will have to buy the cameras and then apply for the grant.
“That’s why we were so excited about Because We Care helping us pay for this -- in case we don’t get that grant,” Barker said.
He also said Because We Care’s fundraising will help his department buy body cameras more quickly than it otherwise could. He hopes to have his officers using them by next spring.
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